Forgotten Wales back-rover Joe Wayne Pivac rates fresh start after 11-month nightmare

It has been a very different story for Shane Lewis-Hughes over the past 11 months, being one of the big successful players in Wales last season.

He has not resumed rugby since February last year due to shoulder surgery, a troubled trip to Cardiff to South Africa and the postponement of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Overall, the three-time capped back rower has been limited to only two outings off the bench in that period.

But now he is finally all set and running again as he prepares to make a blinding start in Friday night’s Champions Cup clash with the Harlequins at Arms Park.

It is a timely comeback as injuries to Josh Navidi, Dan Lyditt and Ross Moriarty have left Wales very limited when it comes to specialist sixes with the Six Nations.

After an impressive Test debut against Scotland with further starts against Ireland and England, Lewis-Hughes took possession for Wayne Pivac during the autumn of 2020.

So there’s a big chance for him to stake a claim for a place in the Six Nations squad in the 11th hour, which Pivac will announce next Tuesday.

But, first and foremost, the 24-year-old with big tackle is very happy to be on the field again.

“It’s been a really frustrating time,” he admits.

“Last season was a pretty good year for me, looking forward.

“Unfortunately, injuries happen and I had to undergo shoulder surgery.

“Then, coming back from that, I struggled a bit, plus a few small bumps and niggles.

Read more: Wales XV probable for Six Nations opener

“But I appeared on the bench twice in October and thought I was going well and getting myself back.

“I had the opportunity to join South Africa and three months later I still look forward to playing a game.”

Along with the rest of Cardiff’s squad, Lewis-Hughes finds himself stranded in Cape Town amid the emergence of the new Omicron strain of Covid.

At Crowley, first there and then in the UK, there was an extended spell in hotel quarantine, which provided a challenging period for all involved.

“It was a big blow,” he says.

“When we were out in South Africa, we were like, ‘Okay, these games have been called off, let’s just go home’.

“But it just went from worse to worse. Every time you thought nothing could get worse, he did.”

“We came to know about the situation in England where we will have to isolate for 10 days.

“Then the boys who pulled out Kovid in South Africa had to do 10 days there and 10 more days when they came to England.

“So it was very disappointing how things were dealt with, but I believe it made us a lot stronger for that as well.”

For someone who focuses fiercely and meticulously in their preparation, the Fernandel product had its own way of getting through the separation.

“It was difficult,” he admits.

“Everyone deals with it differently.

“I just tried to plan my days. I would sit down the night before and plan how the day would work out.

“I try to do four or five sessions a day, until you get to night time.

“It would be something like a bike session in the morning, weights in the middle of the day, yoga in the evening, stuff like that, reading a book.

“It was just a matter of planning to try to get through it.

“But it was definitely dark days and days where you fought more than other days.

“I’m just grateful to be on the other side of it.”

The hotel quarantine meant the South African group missed the opening two rounds of Champions Cup matches against Toulouse and Harlequin, when the Cardiff team teamed up in spirited performances.

Shane Lewis Hughes in action for Cardiff Blues

“We have seen boys in England being isolated from very dark rooms,” he said.

“He did really well. He went out and played a good brand of rugby.

“I was really proud to see the efforts of those boys from afar.

“We can’t wait to get out there this weekend and hopefully do the same.

“It’s a challenge we’ve really been looking forward to, taking on Harlequin.”

Lewis-Hughes insists he is not thinking about his international prospects as he prepares to return to the field for the first time since 23 October.

“I just want to play well,” he said.

“Of course, with my long-term goals, I want to play for Wales, but it is very difficult to be in the back line here, so I have to achieve that at the end of the week.

“With the back rovers we got here, it’s just off the charts. It’s quite a pile. If you get here in the back row, you’re doing great.”

He concluded: “I’m in a good place now. I feel better than ever, so I’m really excited and looking forward now, not looking back.

“My game is all about physicality and bringing in high energy and work-rate. That’s the part I like about the game.

“If you can do the other flashy bits, great.

“But it’s about reducing your fundamentals to sixes and the physical side of it is the side that I love.

“So I’m taking it day in and day out, trying to improve, perfecting my preparation, ticking all the boxes and then putting it all together and getting into the game.”

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